Isaiah 40:1-8, I Peter 1:22-2:10
June 24, 2012
I switched Apostles on you today. Instead of reading from the one of Paul’s letters, we’re looking today at the first letter of Peter. Peter, who took the lead on the day of Pentecost; Peter, who spoke the healing of the lame man at the Temple Gate; Peter, who started as a fisherman, and who ended up being considered to be the first Pope of Rome. That Peter!
Well, this is his first letter. And this is one of a series of letters in the New Testament that have come to be known as the “catholic epistles.” Now, that’s catholic with a small “c,” not Catholic with a capitol “C.” Catholic with a small “c” means “universal.” That’s the word in our creed. We say “I believe in the holy catholic Church.” And that means we believe in the church universal – all Christians everywhere. It doesn’t mean, as some might wonder, that we believe in the Catholic denomination (Capitol “C”) which is centered in Rome.
So, the catholic “epistles” were just that – epistles, or “holy letters” written by the Apostles. And being the “catholic” epistles meant that they were to be passed around “universally” from church to church. They were to be read as guides for faith and doctrine by all believers. I hope you follow me here. Maybe, just for the fun of it, try dropping that term “catholic epistle” into a conversation. And then enjoy the blank stare you get in return! (Sort of like I’m getting now!)
Next, I want you to notice that this letter is addressed to “the exiles in the dispersion.” The believers had been “dispersed.” They had “spread out.” And Peter then names the cities and regions to which these “exiles” had gone. You see, by this time, the persecution of the church had begun. And part of what the believers did in response, besides going “underground” – sometimes literally – was to move out away from the center of the troubles into the outlying countries. And that was called “the dispersion.” And it’s funny, because it actually backfired on those trying to stamp out Christianity. Instead of beating down the new faith, the fact that they caused the church to “disperse” actually promoted the spread of the faith! Isn’t that something?
Well, I want you to see what Peter says in this letter – how he sets it up. Because I like this! (You might want to open your pew bibles and follow along.) Peter starts out by telling his readers about the resurrection and how important it was. Maybe you remember how I told you before that it was the resurrection, not the cross, that was central to Christianity for the first four hundred years or so! And here we find Peter using that as his starting point. “We have been born anew” he says, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through him we have inheritance in the kingdom.” And that was a very Jewish term – “inheritance!”
Next, Peter talked about the prophets, and how they foresaw all this about Jesus. Again, he’s writing from a Jewish perspective and he’s integrating that with this new faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. He goes on from there into the idea of having hope. And of course hope was a very precious commodity in that time of persecution! He then told them about “holiness,” to which they were called. And then he told them how all of this was “confirmed by the word of the Lord, which endures forever.” Finally, in good rabbinic teaching style, he gives emphasis to all this by using a nice quote from Isaiah 40.
I hope you see here that Peter is using a carefully constructed sequence of topics – resurrection and new birth, prophetic revelation, hope and holiness, and confirmation by God’s word. He’s being very “systematic!” And that’s not bad for a common fisherman!
So now we come to chapter 2. And here Peter is calling the people to respond. And that’s always the thing, isn’t it? It’s one thing to hear, and yet another to respond! You may recall the warning God gave Ezekiel about his prophecy. God told him, “they will come to you as my people come, they will sit before you as my people, and they will hear what you say, but they will not do it!” He goes on and says, “and lo will be to them like one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they will hear what you say, but (again,) they will not do it.” (Ezekiel 33:31-32)
Hearing alone is never the sole focus. Doing – responding – that’s the thing. James said, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) So here then is Peter’s call to respond. And he tells them what that response should look like. He says, “So, put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation. For you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” “Do these things,” he says. “This is how you respond to, and live, your faith!”
He goes on with that in his next paragraph, which is our focus for today, and it’s what I want you to remember. He says, “Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men, but in God’s sight chosen and precious. And like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer sacrifices acceptable to God in Jesus Christ.”
That’s great stuff! Isn’t it? And isn’t that what we’re about here? Like the stones that make up the walls of this sanctuary, our lives are the “living stones” that make up the Church – the church which is the body of Christ here in this place! Do we think of ourselves that way? Are we that much a part of this holy place?
Sometimes we confuse the word “church,” you know. Sometimes we use it as though it means the building, when really it means the people. We all do that, don’t we? Well I have to tell you that sometimes I think it’s good that we make that mistake. Because it’s a great metaphor for our lives being “built together” into the church. It is just like a building in a way!! That’s the metaphor Peter is using here. “…like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer sacrifices acceptable to God in Jesus Christ.”
As we have gone about the business of the Church today, as we have elected leaders, and as we have pledged ourselves to pray for, encourage, and follow those leaders, we are being built into that spiritual house, that holy priesthood,” aren’t we? Isn’t Peter right on the money with this!!
So before we close, I have to ask you, “Are we really doing that?” I hope we are able to see ourselves that way. And I encourage you, at milestone times like this, to think of yourself as part of that “spiritual house,” built on the foundation of those who have gone before you. Maybe you can even recall some of them. And as you think of your part in this ministry, be encouraged! Be excited to be a part of the unfolding story of this physical place and the holy people who have been a part of the body of Christ here at Eddington. They are that “Great cloud of witnesses” Paul told the Hebrews about!
And so I encourage you to “build each other up” into that “spiritual house.” Encourage each other by your love. As Paul told the Romans, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10) In other words, try to show even more love and honor than the next person! See yourself as part of that process That’s how we are built into that “spiritual house,” that “holy priesthood!” And to God be the glory here in this place, now and forever, Amen!
Lord, you are the cornerstone of our lives in this place. Help us to see ourselves as the holy people you have called us to be. Help us to be built into this spiritual house. Help us to feel your spirit moving among us and working within us. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.